Lenin & Accounting-Reply to L. Proyect

Howie Chodos howie at magi.com
Wed Jul 12 09:06:56 MDT 1995

I am neither an acoountant nor an economist, but I am suspicious of
arguments which try to resolve complex social functions "administratively"
or "technologically". This may be naive, but it does seem to me that there
are important political questions related to matters of accounting, to which
Jerry alluded in a previous post. What counts as a cost? Who pays for
environmental restoration?

As well, I am not convinced that the fact that programs have to be written
by experts is entirely besides the point. Unless accounting is an entirely
neutral function, equally and unproblematically applicable under capitalism,
socialism and communism, the nature of the input of the experts into the
technology will have an effect on the types of outcome it allows. My overall
inclination is to think that while there are many technologies (and more
generally knowledges) that can readily be appropriated for different social
purposes, there are also many which are locked into particular types of
social relations and reproduce them independently of the wishes of those who
manipulate them. Taylorism springs to mind here. Lenin thought that it was a
matter of appropriating the most advanced capitalist methods for Soviet
power. It seems to me that at best this is an oversimplification. I worry
that something similar is being argued in the accounting debate, though I
readily admit to a lack of concrete knowledge of accounting practices.

Perhaps we need to separate two issues, an assessment of the relative
simplicity of the task from the need to subject the function in question to
democratic control. In some ways the two are entirely independent of one
another. Running a large economiic enterprise is not a simple matter. Yet,
as socialists, I would expect that most of us would endorse subjecting
management functions to democratic and popular control (exactly how it is to
be done is another matter). It is the democratisation of functions such as
accounting that seems to be to be crucial to a socialist project. In order
to do this it is better that as many people as possible understand what is
going on, and have practical experience of the tasks involved. Technological
advances no doubt facilitate this, but they do not, it seems to me, exhaust
what needs to be said about democratic control as a way of reshaping social

Howie Chodos

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